While the conventionalists argue otherwise, there is some truth to the fact that plenty of health conditions can be taken care of without actually seeing the patient in-person. Based on that assumption, AmericanWell offers an interactive service that lets patients talk to a physician in real time, anytime.
The service went live in January this year and initially focusing on Hawaii. The basic ‘interactive consultation’ uses two-way video conferencing, audio and secure text chat. It’s a step-up from the usual definition of a ‘e-visit’ which are mostly asynchronous text-based communication. Patients join for a fee, as I understand (what frustrated me was that I couldn’t find how much the fee was. I would have expected that to be extremely obvious!). Physicians sign up and make themselves available in aggregated pools of their respective discipline, which in turn are tapped into by patient demand.
So will the health plans pay for this? Until now they had signed up only two customers- the Blue Cross-Blue Shield plans in Hawaii and Minnesota. Last month, United Health Group, the largest private health insurer in the U.S., said it would begin deploying American Wellâ€™s platform across its huge network of more than 70 million members.
The concept has some viability for sure. But like anything else, it remains to be seen how well it can permeate through the tough, unyielding US healthcare system. I’m sure we’ll see many more startups with similar approaches soon.
I found out about SeniorEducators during a trip to the bay area last year. They are a startup trying to help seniors make the most out of their medicare benefits.
Quick Medicare tutorial: It consists of Part A, B, C and D. None pays for all of a covered person’s medical costs. The program contains premiums, deductibles and coinsurance, which the covered individual must pay out-of-pocket. After 1997, beneficiaries were given the option to receive benefits through private health insurance plans, instead of original Medicare plan (Parts A and B). That’s why today Medicare insurance market is a complex landscape, filled with lots of insurance companies offering thousands of plan options.
It’s hard to understand it all, let alone find one that fits your health need as well as budget. There is competition, for sure-small (ehealthinsurance, healthinsurancefinders, medigap ) and big (United, Aetna, Cigna..). But I didn’t find many that were only focused on Medicare- most seemed like one-stop shops for all health insurance needs, trying to target everyone.
Notably, this consumer segment is predictably technology-averse with significant communication need. Which is probably why all SeniorEducator online content is in simple language with easy navigation, and they use toll-free numbers to connect with the customers. It’s a good strategy, and it’ll be interesting to see how much traction they can get in a mature market with big entrenched players.
March 2010 Update: Senior Educators is acquired by Hewitt Associates, a publicly-traded global human resources consulting and outsourcing company. Read press release here.
Consumer-Driven Healthcare (CDHC) may not have arrived yet, but startups have been sprouting around it for a while. Carol.com is the brainchild of Tony Miller (founder of Definity Health, another CDHC company that he sold to UnitedHealth Group in 2004) and was started in late 2007.
Carol.com’s original intent was to be a ‘marketplace for care’- a place where consumers with fat HSA‘s could comparison shop for their healthcare needs. The site attempted to create “care packages” around specific conditions or medical needs (e.g. years-worth of outpatient asthma care, for example) and let consumers choose which provider to go with. Very neat concept, although in my opinion it’s probably more applicable to commoditized parts of care (like LASIK, botox) rather than a cardiac cath or appendectomy.
Turns out that Carol.com didn’t attract enough buyers and sellers to make this a viable marketplace- blame it on the economic downturn, lack of consumer awareness, or just plain bad timing. The statistics show a steady decline since Feb’08 (probably the peak of media coverage for Carol.com): 15K then to less than 5K in Feb’09.Â As this article states, in late 2008 they had to make job cuts and re-think their strategy- which is since then to be a consulting and software services provider for healthcare organizations.
I doubt Carol.com will run out of money anytime soon (the website is still up for Seattle and Twin cities) given it’s founder’s previous success. But its unfortunate that good ideas like it go on life support while CDHC remains in its long gestational period. Someone needs to teach consumers how to drive healthcare… soon.
September 2010 Update: Guess I was wrong. Carol.com now has a new name (Carol Corp.) and the website no longer has the marketplace as before. It has some boilerplate info about healthcare consulting and software development services.
Vimo is a consumer portal focused on comparison shopping for healthcare needs. Founded in 2005, Vimo provides a platform for users to research, review, compare and price the following:
- Hospital Procedures
- Individual & Group Health Insurance Plans
- Health Savings Accounts
Compete.com data shows pretty good visitor count (more than 100Kvisitors/month), so they must be doing something right. Their services are free which makes the surgical procedure pricing tool even more impressive. I tried their doctor search tool too, and it worked pretty well for my location (returned more info than usual). Neat interface, fast results.